The Great Awakenings

The Reformation may be seen as a Christian adaptation to the Renaissance and the introduction of Renaissance humanism into the ekklesia, to use a term religion writers occasionally employ to refer to “the church” in its essence, without images of an organized superstructure.

The Methodist Movement

The Enlightenment is about the dawn of the modern scientific age, but its radical effect on common Europeans and especially the American colonists, and on western Christendom, was its experiments in popular self-government. The new ideas in human democracy caught fire, and a new fervor broke out in American intellectual, pastor, and theologian Jonathan Edwards, in England's John and Charles Wesley, who started the movement called Methodism, and in their colleague John Whitfield. Methodism brought revivals in England, Wales, and, through the travels of the Wesleys and Whitfield to America, to the colonies that were moving toward a revolution.

Methodism was an even bigger success in America, and the Great Awakening also awoke a small dormant movement called the Baptists, who were influenced a little by Europe's and Pennsylvania's Anabaptists (from whom they took their approach to baptism), and much more by the Congregational and Presbyterian Calvinists of New England and New Jersey (from whom they adopted most of their theology and social theory).

Baptists Multiply

The Baptists soon eclipsed even the Methodists. They quickly seemed to be the form of Protestantism best suited by the fledgling American people, and they have remained so ever since, by this generation outnumbering all of the other American Protestant denominations combined. Except for Princeton's Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening seemed to affect the grassroots population both widely and deeply, but the intelligentsia very little. After the creation of the Baptists and Methodists (both of which communions grew by millions of members), the movement's main innovation was the Sunday school.

Starting in the 1730s, the Great Awakening was a force through the American Revolution, and continued being one into the nineteenth century. And no sooner had its strength begun to wane than a Second Great Awakening began in the 1820s.

The Second Great Awakening

Though the first Great Awakening seemed sociologically oriented to the frontier and the widespread rural population of the late colonial and Revolutionary periods, the second was most influential in New England (where it was a reaction to deism and Unitarianism), and in Western New York, which was the home of the Chautauqua Campgrounds that spawned a nationwide revival camp meeting movement. The Second Great Awakening also heavily influenced religious life in Appalachia, where a new burgeoning Protestant movement began that produced the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ, which became one of the country's largest denominations.


The Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, started in the same period as the Second Great Awakening. Like the founders of the Disciples and Churches of Christ, their founders thought they provided an alternative to the proliferation of denominations, and didn't want to be thought of as spawning new ones. The Mormons do not accept orthodox Christian creeds.

The Third Great Awakening

A third Great Awakening, starting in the 1880s, seemed oriented to the burgeoning cities of the United States, especially Chicago. It brought another wave of fervor across the continent, though it was strongest among women and helped launch the suffrage and prohibition movements. This revival period was the time of evangelist Billy Sunday and political leader William Jennings Bryan.

The Salvation Army, brought to the United States from England, and the YMCA, also an import from England, were taking hold in the cities with the support of Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899), Billy Sunday (1862–1935), and other evangelicals. Moody bridged the gap between the Second and Third Great Awakenings and made a lasting impact in New England and especially Chicago, where the Moody Bible Institute, Moody Press, and Moody Broadcasting continue to flourish.

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